Reading a story is an opportunity for parent and child to snuggle up together and share an imaginary world.

Ask any parent currently taking their child through the trials and tribulations of Rosie in Rosie's Walk, perhaps, or Harry Potter in The Philosopher's Stone, if you doubt that. What could be better?

Not exactly better but a story read to a group, whether under-fives or eightyear-olds, introduces other dimensions it becomes a social activity.

It will be designed to encourage children's communication and language skills. It will stimulate their imaginations. In some cases, it can even be used to explore quantities and number.

Discussion and involvement involvement are the key elements, which even very small children relish.

But, because their concentration span is shorter, this means several readings, focusing on different aspects of the story and pictures, with a gentle but persistent invitation to note the details of the pictures and the tiny changes that typify a well put-together picture book.

Sometimes, the adult might pretend ignorance, encouraging the children to explain what is going on. In the case of Rosie the hen in Rosie's Walk, they can be prompted to speculate as to why she should be walking out on her own when she is so vulnerable.

Perhaps she's taking exercise or looking for food.

Similarly, querying the fox's behaviour could encourage them to look at the difference between appearance and reality: he's sneaky, he's only pretending, he's going to eat her.

Once the adult has gained their interest, the next stage might be to plan a role-play, which can include craft work in the planning stage possibly costumes or face masks of the two characters.

The adult will probably cut out the shape but the children can bring the masks to life using a variety of easily-accessible media and scraps of material, feathers and so on.

Then, with costumes ready, the children can act out the story, with everyone taking it in turn to act and direct. Is Rosie being quiet enough? Does she guess what is happening? And what about the fox? Is he convincing? Can Rosie hear him? Is he being sneaky enough? Should he be walking on tiptoes to avoid detection?

If the role-playing really takes off, the adult might encourage the children to develop the story further.

It could mean bringing in extra characters or perhaps changing the external circumstances. What, for instance, would Rosie and the fox do if it started to rain? Would Rosie shelter in a barn? What about the fox?

Cue for a new medium of expression, which might be making a picture book using crayon, paints or collage work.

Alternatively, they might make play-dough models or finger puppets. In other words, from a small starting point, children are being encouraged to develop a range of interlinking skills skills fundamental to their long-term learning and enjoyment.